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Mississippi Catholic Diocese Join Anti-Health Care Reform lawsuit

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 22 May 2012 06:11pm | comments

Catholic leaders in Mississippi are warning that a rule in the health care overhaul law could force them to drop their non-profit services. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports the threats are part of the Bishop's campaign against a rule requiring insurance companies to offer contraceptive services for free.

After push back from catholic groups, it was changed to exempt them while still allowing insurance companies to directly reach out to employees and pay for contraceptive care.

The Mississippi diocese of Jackson and Biloxi have joined a lawsuit against the Obama administration opposing the rule saying it still represents an infringement of freedom of religion.

Mississippi College School of Law professor Matt Steffey says courts have interpreted the separation of church and state to only apply to laws that specifically target a religion or its practice.

"There is a law that says employers of all particular size must include preventative birth control as part of their health benefits. That law applies to GM as well as Notre Dame. It isn't targeted at religion," Steffey said.

Diocese spokeswoman Shirley Henderson says this rule is different because it would require them to do something they otherwise wouldn't do, insisting that the church could suspended non-profit services rather than accept the change.

"If we cannot provide insurance, then we wouldn't have employees and we would have to close. And we would close down before we would knuckle under to this. Close our services," Henderson said.

Professor Steffey says the lawsuit also could be part of a broader strategy to apply pressure to the administration.

But if the Catholic Church sees the lawsuit through, it could be an opportunity for the courts to reexamine of separation of church and state.

"The other victory would be: 2, 3, 4 years in coming, going through a Circut Court of Appeal and hoping that the US Supreme Court takes it and issues a broader for religious freedom than I think currently exists," Steffey said.

While this specific provision is not part of the legal challenge before the Supreme Court, if the court decides to strike down the whole law it would take this rule with it.

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